FIFA sets late-2021 target to pick 2026 World Cup cities

Toronto FC, pictured in action against New York City FC. (Chris Young/CP)

ZURICH — FIFA set a new target Tuesday of finalizing North American host cities for the 2026 World Cup — if the COVID-19 pandemic allows.

The 23 candidate cities likely need to be cut to 16. FIFA said it could confirm them at the end of the the year.

The pre-pandemic schedule called for cities hosting the first 48-team World Cup — likely 10 in the United States and three each in Canada and Mexico — to be picked early this year. The new deadline will depend on FIFA officials being able to take inspection trips to 17 cities in the United States and three each in Canada and Mexico.

``The visits will only take place if the health and safety situation in the host countries allows FIFA to do so,'' the governing body said in a statement.

The proposed Canadian cities are Edmonton (Commonwealth Stadium), Toronto (BMO Field) and Montreal (Olympic Stadium).

A FIFA delegation met with Canada Soccer and representatives from the Canadian cities in Toronto last March before the pandemic started shutting sports down.

The plan is for Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each with the U.S. hosting 60, including all games from the quarterfinals on.

Most of the venues in the United States will be NFL stadiums, with the home of the New York Giants and New York Jets expected to host the final on July 12, 2026.

``Realizing the commercial potential of each venue, as well as in terms of sustainability, human rights and event legacy, is of the utmost importance,'' FIFA said.

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